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The ‘tourist’ with the camera

It was just another morning at this rundown village, a place where one would deduce, “Poverty couldn’t be any worse than this!” A place where a not-so-romantic past and a bland and unpleasant present mingle  an bleak, uncertain future; a place which seems to daydream a twenty-first century and yet wakes up to the reality of a fifteenth century existence. Anyone who would say, “Poverty or no poverty, don’t tell me people still live like this in this age!”  Well, they do.

That was not what I was aiming at; I mean, the poverty talk and all that. No intention here of joining the rank of ‘anti-poverty crusaders’ who yet haven’t the sensation of a delayed dinner, let alone go hungry for a couple of hours.

That morning the village had ‘visitors,’ four or five ferenjis. No need to call any hotline to find out if they were tourists; they were.  Theirs wasn’t some leisurely stroll. In fact, it was what they did more than their presence that turned one head too many. All of them carried impressive looking cameras and they were taking pictures of the old, decaying cottages, the horrifyingly unkempt children with rags for clothes and all the things one wouldn’t want to store in the gallery of one’s smartphone.

I mean it wasn’t that they were maybe trying to document how we lived but they were particularly focusing on the most unsightly and grotesque things! By the way, even amidst so much misery there were nice things that could have generated the perfect close up shots. The smiles on the faces of most people especially women vendors selling fruits and vegetables on the sidewalks were moving. 

There was nothing that shows they were from some media outlets in which case an argument can be made about their actions.  But these were tourists, for heaven’s sake, why do they have to focus on the filthiest, the most repelling scenes? Tourism is supposed to be all about happiness, it is supposed to be all about winding down mentally and physically and some sort of regeneration of our tired genes. It is supposed to be about loosening the nerves, about having a good time.

I just couldn’t imagine a tourist going to some place with plans like, “I want to enjoy myself seeing how those poor people live and take a couple of hundred photographs.”  I’m not sure what sort of happiness people as the lady we mentioned get from photographing the most destitute people.

“Sir, good afternoon;”

“Thanks; good afternoon to you, too.”

“Sir, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I beg your pardon!”

“I said, what do you think you are doing?

“Of course, taking photographs.”

“I can see that, but I don’t see any historical castle, or obelisk, or wildlife, or natural wonder worthy of pictures. What kind of tourism is yours preying on poor people who…”

The guy would probably beat the hell out of the place or complain I was harassing him; and believe me if he said, “Hey this guy is giving me a hard time!” it will be time to test years of hitting the running machine in the gym.

Look, this is not about me pulling the ‘patriotic’ card which uncomfortably too many people appear to be doing lately, (‘Reading between the lines’ never made more sense than it is doing these days. There is so much of the melodrama sort of thing that, indeed, fact is stranger than fiction!)

“I’m not going to let some foreigner with ulterior motives to blacken my country’s image abroad!” Sorry to break it to you, the train is already out of the station!)

This one happened sometime back. This woman, again probably a tourist, was taking pictures in part of this city. Of course, that’s what tourists usually do-take pictures! Well, Addis Ababa doesn’t have any Gondar castle or Axum obelisk. It sure doesn’t have wildlife, literally speaking, that is. So, her picture- taking didn’t have anything to do with such things. She went about her mission with the widest smile you could imagine; playing that well-mannered ferenji with a soft spot for the unlucky. I doubt a Trevor Noah or a Jimmy Fallon could have managed to make her smile so radiantly. However, what especially catches attention of anyone taking a second look was that identity of her subjects. She was photographing beggars - the most mutilated, the most physically and mentally broken ones! Why! What kind of tourist would go back home and boast, “Look what a good time I had in that country!” flashing pictures of souls who could be described as ‘the wretched of the earth,’ One becomes  a little bit suspicious of her real motive when one notices she was throwing ten birr notes to each one of them. Ten birr! That was a lot of money. Why did she have to go to through all this trouble if her presence was just to have a good time! I’m not asking, just wondering. One thing to be sure of is that she wasn’t going to petition the UN for more funds to eliminate poverty once and for all in Ethiopia. No way!

While we are at it maybe we give our own ‘Chechnya’.  What a place! (In every sense of the word!) That place is becoming one of the most visited ‘tourist attractions’ in this very noisy city. Someone was joking that some tourists reserve not only hotel rooms but also nice Ethiopian girls through intermediaries back here. Well, it is all about business isn’t it! Especially with the recent knockout punch the mighty Dollar dealt our hapless, defenseless Birr we need every piece of paper with Washington on it!  During the last regional meeting here was a report on this paper that international participants were complaining of [price hikes in the ‘Chechnya’ melting pot! I told you it is all about business! Well when one thinks it was time for sins of the flesh what better place is there than ‘Chechnya!’

Back in their home would they be putting their pictures on the living room walls? Would they be all smiles when they boast to guests “I took these pictures when I was in Ethiopia. What a swell time I had! You should go some day.”

I know this very suspicious guy. Especially when it comes to our good guests from oceans and seas away he always carries this big question mark with him. “Do you think they come here to enjoy themselves or help us! I tell you this country is the target of international conspiracies we don’t know about.”

Well. About this conspiracy thing, international or otherwise, I wouldn’t go as far as dismissing it altogether with some, “I think you should consult some local Dr’ Phil!” We are not in a nice world, and these are not nice times.

How could one have nice memories with pictures of misery and gloom! Just beats me.


Contributed by Ephrem Endale
Contributed by Ephrem Endale